Family litmus test…(or, why Clark Griswold is my hero)

"Are we there yet?"

We who do not learn from our past are doomed to repeat it. The year is 1978, the event is Thanksgiving. Our Impala station wagon is pointed East, as we head to Tupelo, Mississippi to visit Grandma. That’s a cool 8-hour drive through Texas and Louisiana on our way to the birthplace of Elvis (look it up). I’m 14, my brother is 10, with Mom and Dad piloting the family truckster…my Dad, who has since left this Earth, was a temperamental man, so one might think that spending half his waking day in a confined space would be something to be avoided at all costs; but…every November, we would be barreling down I-20E, hopeful to return with as little psychological damage as possible.

Fast-forward to Spring Break, 2012. Now it’s ME who’s the temperamental Dad with two boys, ages 10 and 7, and I have an epiphany ~ instead of flying out to Phoenix to visit Grandpa, we’ll fly to Albuquerque, hop in a rental car, and make our vacation a road trip!  In 6 days, the plan was to head West to the Grand Canyon, then South to Phoenix for a couple days, then North up to Sedona before heading back to Albuquerque. Even on paper, the effort looks like an invitation for gastro-intestinal distress. To increase the difficulty level (did I mention I have masochistic tendencies?) let’s throw in the mother-in-law for the ride, just in case things were potentially smooth-sailing.

Without boring you with a day-by-day recap, I decided instead to share with you some simple rules that should be mandatory reading for anyone deciding to embark on the great American road trip.

  1. The window rule ~ it’s an easy concept…long car rides, especially in the altitude of New Mexico and Arizona, will result in non-industrial gas emissions. The best way to excuse yourself is to roll(in the name of all that is holy)…down(we really need to get that kid to a doctor)…your window. The Governor will pardon all offenses if window action is taken immediately, but you will not turn my car into a Dutch Oven. (*It should be noted that the driver is granted immunity from this rule.)
  2. Public Address ~ I enjoy the newspaper. What I don’t enjoy is to have interesting articles, tidbits, and/or weather forecasts read to me aloud from the backseat. Not only is this annoying, it becomes especially so when I’m asked to explain said information to the reader. Lest you think I’m a bad parent, I’m NOT talking about the children.
  3. Avoid the drive-thru ~ It defies every man’s natural instinct, but do not be tempted to make better time on your journey by speeding through the drive-through window. It’s worth the extra 20 minutes to avoid the disaster that will surely follow. This is not a roadie with your college roommates, these are family members, they WILL destroy your car. And unless you want to backtrack 10 miles to pick up the missing beef taco, the drive-thru is your enemy.
  4. If you stop-it, you drop-it ~ Gas stops, snack stops, food stops = bathroom visits. This is non-optional. I’m sorry you “don’t have to go,” but unless you’ve installed a make-shift outhouse from a Folger’s can in the backseat, you will be visiting the facilities.
  5. Co-pilot “Rights” ~ If you want an engaged navigator (and a happy marriage), radio control must reside in the domain of the co-pilot, even if that right is blatantly misused (i.e., Country music). Bad music won’t kill you, but the woman to your right just might if you insist on talk radio.

One final note – never, never, nevernevernever relinquish the steering wheel. Driving the family may be stressful, but the “Mommy seat” involves way too much compassion for the average man ~ Kleenex for snot, napkins for spills, snack distribution, alphabet games, bouncer, car marshall ~ not me, man, not me.


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